Wednesday, June 19, 2019

to Ireland!

Let's play "assumptions and stereotypes" and see which ones actually played out for us: O'Hare airport in Chicago? Avoid it at all cost! Traveling overseas with two kids under five? Nightmare! Cold, rainy days n the Emerald Isle? But of course. Surly, sullen cabbie in Dublin? Typical! Frequent family travel means frequent hotel stays? Inevitably!

You'll have guessed perhaps that none were true on the first leg of our journey to Ireland and the UK.

I met up with the young family -- my older daughter, her husband, Snowdrop and Sparrow -- at the Chicago airport. We were flying United -- an airline that has received some criticism in recent years from unhappy travelers. I rarely stray from Delta, but as I said, this trip was the young family's trip and I was curious how this routing would feel as compared to my usual connections in Detroit or Minneapolis.

Perhaps we were lucky, but getting through the airport hurdles was a breeze. No lines anywhere. All smooth, despite the fact that we had luggage that was necessarily copious because of the presence of young ones. Yes, you can buy diapers, mushy foods, and rubber duckies elsewhere, but our time is precious. No one wants to spend it on shopping for essentials.

There, checked in and past security!


Sparrow is in pj's. The flight takes off after 9pm: the goal is to get him to sleep. Quickly.


A thrown together dinner at the airport. Snowdrop chooses cheesy pizza.


B14! That's our gate!


I had mentioned in an earlier post that getting bulkhead seats was horribly difficult and time consuming. But it was well worth it. The young family has three seats together and once in flight, Sparrow gets his own little bassinette. Shall we say that he is a tad tall for it, but it's a godsend: he spends some 70% of his time off lap, sleeping or playing in his little bed. That's a lot of time when you dont have to distract him from destroying the plane's interior. (Not that it doesn't look like it's been through a lot already... United does not appear to fuss about aesthetics.)


I am a few seats removed from the young family and I am immobilized by virtue of the fact that I have two passengers that are nearly impossible to pass. So I sleep, right? Wrongo bongo.

I keep waiting for the kids to fall apart, thinking that perhaps I could leap over everyone and spring to helpful action should that happen. In fact, though, the kids were 99% magnificent and the parents were 100% capable of managing all the tricky situations that travel presents.

Seven and a half hours later, we are on our final approach into Dublin. Snowdrop's excitement elicits many smiles as she pipes up from her window seat. "Oh my God! Look, mommy! Beaches! And the ocean! Oh my God!"

And wouldn't you know it! There will be some sunshine, at least for this part of the day! (I well remember that weather on these islands hardly ever holds steady for a full day.)


I commented on these magnificent partly blue skies to the cab driver (a very chatty fellow!). He retorted -- don't jinx it! It has been raining constantly here! Rain? I am no stranger to it!

Our hotel faces this street.


It is very unusual for us to stay in a hotel. Indeed, Snowdrop has only once in her life overnighted in one. Otherwise, the young family stays with friends or at AirBnBs. But for the first three nights here, we're doing hotels. It has to do with conferences and convenience and incredible deals. (We're at the Westbury in Dublin.)

As is often the case, your overseas flight comes in before rooms are ready. So we go to lunch, just downstairs, because no one feels like walking anywhere just yet.

(Someone's tired...)


(Someone's hungry and Irish smoked salmon is special!)


And finally, the rooms are set. I'm with Snowdrop, here:


It's a simple but very spacious room. For me, it's such luxury! One night of indulgence for her, too -- she has a choice of sleeping in a bed or in a tent.

I have a moment of deja vu -- I only once stayed in a Westbury. Snowdrop's mom was then three and we were spending a summer in Cambridge, England, where her dad was doing research. We came in to London to sight-see and there was then, too, a super special rate at this British/Irish hotel chain. We were so poor -- I was still a student, my then husband was just recently employed to teach at a state university, but we splurged. And my daughter began her own childhood story telling exactly then, chanting stories, all under the title of "Snowdrop's mom, everywhere!" (Insert her name, instead of Snowdrop's mom.) I am so shocked to hear Snowdrop tell a story now under the title "Dark Blue, everywhere!" (Dark Blue is her favorite girl's name now. Snowdrop is not conventional in her naming choices!) Is it genetic??

The little girl's brother is napping with mom and dad in their own room, but Snowdrop is going strong.


I sit back, sip a coffee, look out the window. We are in Ireland, alright.


The goals for this day are modest: rest, get acclimated to Europe's clocks and habits. We're doing that. And sucking in every last minute of a lovely space where a little girl's stories unfold.

But very late in the afternoon, I decide a trip to a grocery store is in order. We need fruits and snacks. Snowdrop is game! Does that girl ever exhaust her batteries??


(At Marks and Spencer Food Halls...)


Toward evening we walk to the train station. Some of the grownups have to catch a train to Belfast to do some work there. But first, we all grab a dinner at the Brew Dock, just by the station.


In so many ways, it's an exhausting time. No one has eaten or slept according to any discernible pattern. But the kids hold it together so very well and the evening is lovely.


(a Snowdrop sketch and my fish and chips)


And here are a couple of true, predictable statements: the Irish are so incredibly friendly, especially toward young children that it makes your heart sing. "That one's a smiler and a half!" -- the bar tender will say about Sparrow. "Do your little ones want a licker?" (aka a lollipop) "What a big lad! Must be at least two and a half!" --on and on and on.


The other predictable event -- it rains on the walk back to the hotel. Big fat splatters of wetness. All umbrellas and panchos are back in the room. Of course.

And what's lovely now? Retiring for the night, to get some much needed rest!

(a milk and cookie goodnight snack...)


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

taking off!

Question: why am I up at dawn, driving to the other side of town, looking at free if somewhat rotten fencing with Ed?

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It is one of those imponderables. Something to mull over. There is not good answer. It just is.

*     *    *

Today is the day when I take off. This is a trip that has been long on the books. I'm not the one who selected the dates nor itinerary. It's all the young family's doing. I'm just a tag-along (though we worked jointly and tirelessly on some aspects of it -- like, for example, where we should stay).

My daughter and her husband have a conference to go to. That event will take us to Belfast. But for now, we're all flying to Dublin. From Chicago. (The economics of travel so dictate.)

We'll be together throughout, though not on the leg of the journey from Madison to the Chicago airport -- they have arrangements to make with their house sitter. I have a bus to catch. But once in Chicago, we join forces and away we go!

*     *     *

All this happens after a very busy morning. Sure, there is the calm of breakfast...

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But after, there is the whirlwind of packing, of talking to the docs that are caring for my mother (so far everyone's upbeat), of talking to people about fences, until I can talk no more and Ed sweetly says -- gorgeous, I'll take over. I'll figure this out for you.

He is one sweet guy.

A last look at one corner of my June garden...

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And I'm off! Next post? From Dublin!

Monday, June 17, 2019


Life is full of retreats and corrections. Setbacks and repairs. Most repairs work, some do not. When they do, you breathe a sigh of relief and move on. When they do not -- well, you reset and also move on. There is no room in life for despair.

I was thinking of this today when a close work friend of Ed's set out with his family to drive to the sailboat which was to take them on a year-long journey, all the way from Wisconsin to the Virgin Islands: two parents, two kids, and a dog. In the car, the dog got volatile and angry and bit the face of one of the family members, requiring serious stitches. The family regrouped. The dog was off the sailing crew list. They found another dog to adopt. In a week or two, they'll be setting out again.

I was thinking about this, too, when I talked to my mom's doc. Perhaps you remember -- my mom, who is 95, is having some health issues. She is currently in the hospital as the docs try to figure out what's wrong. Having located the problem (a blocked artery), they feel confident they can fix it and she can go home in a day or so. She is confident as well. They all are telling me to go ahead with my trip tomorrow. The doc says she'll be in a better state than she was before.

And I was thinking about this as I tried so very hard to find someone to build us a fence for the goats. Having watched several youtubes on the process, I no longer think this is an easy thing that someone could knock off in an afternoon. I cannot find a fence installer to do it right. I have wasted every spare waiting minute trying - I'm stumped. If I can't get the fence up, I can't bring home goats.

So many of our days are full of these steps and missteps. The best thing you can do for yourself (and the younger generations) is to learn to use that reset button within you. To avoid regret. To look forward to what's ahead, despite it all.

In the meantime, let me take some pleasure in what's blooming right now: the phlox is starting! If you counted the number of phloxes in my garden you'd be shocked: I love this flower so much! This is the first of the bunch and I am so glad to see its tiny blooms before I take off!

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Hi, Happy.

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Hi, sweet Ed.

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Hi, wonderful friend, in town just in time for us to have a coffee.

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Hi, Snowdrop! (The little girl has two mornings of Fairy dance camp. Oh, how she loves this program!!)

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(Leaving dance, past that colorful paper store...)

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(Arriving at the farmette, paying homage to the sweetest flower of them all -- alyssum, with the incredible scent of honey...)

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(our usual shenanigans...)

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I'm not ready for my departure tomorrow. But you know what? The suitcase will be packed, the trip will be amazing, and I'll come home to day lilies in full bloom. How good is that!

Sunday, June 16, 2019


I think it's fair to say that I don't crumble easily when life gets intense. Usually I stay calm, remain clear headed,  barrel through it all, then fall apart at some later date, leaving everyone wondering -- what's wrong with her?

You couldn't call this day cataclysmic, but at the very least, it is crazy. I mean, nutty crazy.

Except for breakfast. Which is normal and cozy.

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Our weather outside? Twenty degrees below normal and wet. Yuk.

(feed me, feed me!)

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Some of today's issues are of nobody's making. Others? I take the blame. Ed, too, had his fingers in the pie. In other words -- life, all in one day.

We have before us an early morning appointment on the other side of town. Ed found a kids play structure on Craigslist. He thinks it would be a wonderful thing to put into the goat field: both goats and children could romp! Win win!

Never one to discourage him in his interest in kids (of the human and goat kind), I said -- let's do it!

Do what, you ask. Well, someone was willing to part with an expensive play structure for a tiny fraction of its original cost. All the buyer had to do was take it apart, carry it off, and put it back together again. No instructions available.

Ed's truck is barely holding onto its insides and I absolutely refuse to ride in it, so I follow along by car, ignoring the noise, the fumes, the horrible tilt of the truck in front of me.

It's drizzling and cold when we arrive at the home with the structure. Ed has his tool box. We expect it to take many hours.

We look it over. Ed is excited. Me? Less so.
The goats can't climb this!
We could build a slanted board... And look! If we enclose the downstairs part, it could serve as a goat shed!
I dont see it. It's too low.
We could raise it on cinder blocks.
Then the (already steep) slide would be dangerous.
But wouldn't it be clever?

(Judge for yourselves...)

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We were to visit Snowdrop and Sparrow, but now that this project is scrapped, Ed wants to move on with our other tasks. Snowdrop is disappointed. Ed waffles.

But we can't stop. I promise I will drop by later! In the mean time, he and I move on to Menards -- a store that sells home building stuff. And sheds. We are thinking that perhaps the good compromise to the goat shelter is to put up one of those sheds people use for tools.
How would you anchor it?
I'll work that out...

So we're making progress! Goat shelter -- yes, an agreement is reached. We now go to Farm and Fleet to pick up buckets, minerals, goat candy (this is a term used for goat bribes/lures/rewards). Ed suggests I get a Farm and Fleet frequent buyer card. I sweat.

What about fencing? -- I ask.

No good answer is offered. I have watched too many videos on electric fences. I have talked to Madison's expert goat person who believes in the product. I am not convinced. I am at a loss as to where I can find a person to drive a standard woven wire fence into the ground.
You can do it  -- Ed tells me.
I want to glare at him, except that he is already on board with building the shelter for me.

We part ways. He returns home in his rickety truck, I scoot over to my mom's place, tidy things up there, and pick up stuff for her -- she is in the hospital undergoing tests in order to better understand her medicine schedule going forward. She is in good form, but we need a better solution for her issues.

Afterwards, I head over to the grocery store, because I'd left off the list on Friday items that Ed lives on in my absence. From there, I go to the young family's home to say hi, as promised. Hi back at you, gogs!

(she is so into art...)

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(he is so into everything...)

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(gogs comes with cherries...)

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And now I am finally home and it is evening and I take out the ingredients to cook up a pot of chili for us, and for Ed in my absence.

I exhale, trying to ignore the fact that I was to pack today (I'm leaving Tuesday and have no time for it tomorrow).

So, a bit nutty, no? But, the family is fine and the cats were fed and the cheepers are hiding in the barn and the goat project is moving forward. If only I could bribe someone to build me a fence in the next couple of weeks...

Saturday, June 15, 2019

animals and good neighbors

It's not that I want to overfill my days. I'm content when they have chunks of down time. But sometimes, the motor within you churns and I find yourself panting and thinking -- how did I ever get to be this busy?

Today was just such a day.

It all started with the cats (and yes, yes, we do have too many because Stop Sign has had too many and yes, she needs to be neutered and if only she'd pause with her reproductive instincts and duties, we'd make an all out effort to get the old girl to the vet).

I go out early. Dance is there. I feed Dance. Then Stop Sign comes. I feed Stop Sign. Then the kittens show up, but I can't feed them because the cheepers are now loose and any food left for the kittens will be eaten by the curious girls. I spend over an hour trying to get food to everyone. An hour!

At least the setting is pretty: a late spring garden is calm, with lots of green still, but it's plenty enchanting anyway.

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A few conversations with my mom, who has had a few more ups and downs but mostly ups now.

And then Ed and I get in the car to drop off something I had mended for Snowdrop (the little girl is on her way to a birthday party not too far from here)...

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And from there, we go visit a family who happens to raise goats.

I know, I know. No more goat talk! No more goat visits! No more goat speculations! Don't overfill your plate!

On the flip side -- I'm thinking this is our last chance to bring animals here, to the farmette. (We're getting old, no?) And as Ed questions me about steps I had taken before backing down, I listen more attentively at ideas that he himself had had.

We reach a midpoint, where I am not so hellbent on doing this my way and he's not so hellbent on not doing it at all. After watching youtube clips at 3:30 a.m. on various forms of electric fencing, I'm not so opposed to the idea of this less permanent solution. So now Ed isn't terribly opposed to putting up a shed and thus we are back on the goat boat once more.

We've had an appointment with this particular goat lady for a while. She has sold all her does, but she has some wethers still. Do you know what they are? They are neutered male goats. Their only role is to be a pet and a companion to other goats. And they have wonderfully mild dispositions. And they are cheap. No goat cheese is going to come your way out of a wether.

Insofar as Ed and I are still considering goats (are we? well, maybe...), wethers are a good choice, at least for this year. The investment is smaller. And honestly, I'm not sure I want to take on breeding and milking at all. What do we do with all that high fat goat milk??

The people we visit are not homesteaders. They have day jobs, they have kids and lawns and the animals they keep are perhaps closer to a hobby than a need to put calories on the table.

We learn a lot about everything. And, well, their goats are so well tended and so lovable...

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... and sure enough, by the end of the hour, we are committed goat owners.

Meet Smoky, a mini Nubian...

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... and Casper, a Nigerian.

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The names are chosen by the goat people, but I think we'll stay with them.

But wait, why do I call these folks "goat people," when in fact, what you see more of on their property is... llamas.

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They raise them, sheer them, use their wool.

Suddenly, I am surrounded by llamas.

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And because I have llama cookies, I am followed by llamas. A lot of llamas.

(Llama butts and a Nina butt)

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No! We are not ever considering llamas!

Ah, but it's a delightful time!

During the drive home, Ed offers to build a shed from a kit for the goats and to help me set up fencing.

We call our corn farmers (who live just down the road and who also keep beef cattle and have a couple of playful goats) and stop by to chat with them about getting hay for the goats. Another hour of stellar conversation about corn and neighbors and cats and, well of course, goats.

It'll be a month before we bring Casper and Smoky to the farmette. For now, like expectant parents, we must get ready!

Friday, June 14, 2019


When you're young, do you ever think about what a day would look like once you retire? I never did that. I may be glass half full in my every day outlook, but in the long run, I did half-believe that if I daydreamed about retirement, I'd jinx it and conk out two days before its commencement.

But then, five years ago, I thought -- hey, it may happen!

A year later, I retired.

People wonder if they will be bored once they let go of their job.


Here is a summary for you of a day in the life of this one retired person. Much of it is standard stuff for someone who no longer keeps to a work schedule: getting up without rushing, taking a walk in the middle of the morning, chatting about this and that with Ed throughout the day. But other stuff -- well, it's part of my uniquely crazy setup. My very special and very full template, with some extra excitement thrown in, because days never unfold in a totally predictable manner. A day where I'm left panting, and I didn't even have grandkid care responsibilities!

Panting? How so?

Well, in addition to all that calm retired person stuff, and after a breakfast with Ed...

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... I spend time with a friend (I was late... here she is, waiting)...


My friend and I sip a late morning coffee then take that lovely, blustery walk.

There ends the calm stuff.

Throughout the day, I must keep up  with my mom, who had taken a turn for the worse last night, then recovered, then had a set back, then recovered once more.

Throughout the day, I also have to keep up with the cats. Seriously -- the unrewarding cats. I thought that we were currently feeding two. Today I find that there are actually five: Stop Sign, Dance, and then three babes -- clearly the most recent litter of Stop Sign. So we were wrong about Tulip the Maine Coon -- he was way too big to be part of this year's litter, whereas these three look exactly to be two months!

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In addition, I meet my new doc (my old one moved to Montana because, well, she said it's all in the mountains) -- lovely person whose smile lights up the room.

And I grocery shop for the weeks I will be away. Bags, of food. Mostly for Ed.

Somewhere in there, I attended the performance of the young dancers enrolled in the one-day summer unicorn dance camp. Snowdrop is one such unicorn!

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Talk about a person who lights up the room with her smile!

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Kids, cats, bags, lives -- how many were going to St. Ives?

(Most of life can be summarized with the help of a nursery rhyme.)

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Writing? What writing? I haven't even done my ten minutes-a-day of French reading lessons for many, many weeks.

But in fact, retirement had never looked this beautiful in my pre-retirement musings. I just wanted to rid myself of work pressures. I got so much more.